Sunday, May 27
"Hi, Daddy.” The cellphone sat tucked beneath Gwendolen North’s chin. “I’m putting you on
speaker if that’s okay?”
“Hey, sweetie, of course. You sound good,” Army Lieu‐ tenant General Glenn North said.
“I am. I’m finishing up an assignment in Virginia and will be heading to San Diego on a flight this afternoon.” Gwen packed as she spoke.
Her father slowly pulled in and released a deep breath. “San Diego? Gwen, that worries me.”
“Hey, it means we’ll be in the same state. I can catch a flight and come for a visit.” She put a pair of shoes in a bag and placed it in the bottom of her suitcase.
“You know it’s not because I don’t want you to visit. It’s been a while,” the general said.
“I know. I’m escorting Mr. Bremen to his new post.
He’s San Diego’s second in command. He asked for me specifically. Dad, I’m going as his assistant.” She was going as a mixed bag: security, therapy companion, as well as an assistant. “I can’t abandon him. He’s facing another major surgery.”
“You always do the honorable thing. I’m proud of you.” He cleared his throat. “Gwen, please be careful. You left San Diego for a reason. If you end up leaving your team position to work for Mr. Bremen, or anyone in San Diego, you need to think this through carefully. You don’t need the stress.”
“I know, Daddy.” She played with the locket she wore.
Her dad gave it to her the day she left the Navy.
“I know you do, sweetie. You always do. I love you,” he sighed.
“Love you too.” Gwen ended the call. She stood in front of the window on the second floor of Chase Center for Training’s main building, watching the blissful sight of the horses in the pasture.
“Witch?” Remy Mirouette, Tango Team’s leader, stood in the doorway. “All set?”
“Almost.” She smiled.
“I’m going to miss you,” Remy said. “I’m sure it’s a short gig,” she insisted.
“I don’t think so. I was talking to the PA, Tim Holland. The rumor mill says you’re number one on a short list for a first deputy position. He’s flying out with you—being pulled from here to head Bremen’s medical team. Appar‐ ently, this surgery is bigger than anyone is saying. Rumors are bouncing around the military community that he’s more disabled than he appears.”
“You saw him here. You witnessed his mission planning skills. I am going as security and a physical therapy companion. He keeps his struggles close to the vest, but from what I see, he’s growing stronger every day.” Gwen zipped her bag.
Remy pinched the bridge of his nose. “Before you go, we have one more issue to handle. I don’t want to have to explain this to your replacement. It’s about Billings. I called Denver and arranged to transfer him out to Lima Team. I know he’s no fan of yours, and I can’t keep him in good faith. I sat in with one of the therapists to do a final check-in with the group before we leave. At the therapist’s recommendation, medical wants all of us to keep checking in. Losing two and the injuries to more hit all of us hard. That includes you.”
“I hear you. I promise.” Gwen sighed.
“Anyway, the therapist brought the squad together for the final debrief. Billing goes on about how he’s happy not to have you as an XO anymore and that Bremen got more than a severe beating when he was undercover.” Remy raised a brow and cocked his head.
Anger exploded from within. “I hope you told him to piss off. Whatever happened to Mr. Bremen is no one’s business.” Gwen ground her teeth.
“I did. I spoke to Denver about the transfer. I wrote him up for rumor-mongering and disrespect to a supe‐ rior. I need you to co-sign the order, but I’m worried he was only the first one I heard. There’s a lot of whispering about Bremen’s injuries. You may need to protect him from an emotional assault too.” Remy stared at her. “You all right with San Diego? I care for you, Gwen; I want you safe.”
“I have the intention of living a quiet life.” She smoothed down her blouse, subtlety adjusting the place‐ ment of her bra. “And I know how much you care.” Her eyes got watery. “Some special operator I am—I’m crying.” Remy pulled her into his arms. “You’re damn good at your job.” He pushed her back and lifted his chin. “You watch yourself.”
“I will,” she sniffed.
“Good, we are on the escort team.” Remy gave her a thumbs up.
Gwen grabbed a bag. Remy took the other.
WES CROCKETT PLOPPED in the club chair in Troy Bremen’s room. “I’m checking in.”
“And I’m checking out,” Troy teased.
“You are such an ass sometimes.” He offered an amused smile.
“That’s what you love about me.” Troy pressed his lips together. “I think I’m ready. No, I’m ready for the mental portion of the job. I don’t know if I’m ready for another surgery. And I’m not going to have you and Kip as my backup all the time, so I need to appoint my own XO.”
“There isn’t a timetable that says you have to do this today. Wait until after the surgery to jump the hurdles. Smooth won’t care.”
“I care,” Troy spoke forcefully.
“Okay. Who are you thinking about for first dep?” Wes asked.
“Now you’re the ass; there’s only one person.” Troy looked up at the ceiling and shook his head.
“Gwen,” Wes stated the obvious.
“Of course Gwen. She’s already assigned as my PT companion, security escort …whatever title Martin came up with. She knows my program and will help get me settled with my new medical team. I spoke to Martin. He says he’s fine with it. And he knows about the kiss.” He ran his hand through his hair. “Wes, I’m going to have to tell her the whole truth.”
“And? You choose your narrative, my friend; you can share what happened in Silverton with whoever you chose. You’re having flashbacks. You can’t run from them, and you can’t hide. Is it the telling anyone part, or is it Gwen?”
“I don’t want her to see me as a victim. I can’t bear seeing pity in her eyes.” Troy’s shoulders sagged.
“Any‐ one’s eyes.”
“If she hasn’t pitied you yet, I don’t think she will now.
Think about that,” Wes counseled.
“I’ll put it on my list. Their medical director sent me a schedule of all the -ologists I’ll be seeing. Tim Holland is head of my team.” Troy stared down at his empty palms.
“Holland knows his stuff.” Wes leaned in closer. “You have all of us. You better find a house with guest rooms. We will be visiting.” He cracked a smile and looked down.
“What’s up?” Troy raised a brow.
“I’ve been asked to torture you before you leave.” He pulled a syringe out of his pocket. “A little anticoagulant for the road. No blood clots for you,” Wes teased.
Troy chuckled and pulled his shirttails free from his pants. “Pick your spot.”
Wes pulled an alcohol prep from his pants pocket as well. After he cleaned the area, he counted, “One… Two…” He injected the med before he called “three.”
“You always were a bastard with a syringe.” Troy stood and tucked his shirt in again.
“I’ll grab your bags. See you downstairs. Oh, one more thing.” He walked to the hall and returned. In his hand was an ornately carved ebony cane with the head of a phoenix in silver. “You need something better than that medical-looking cane.” He placed his hand on top of Troy’s as he took the cane and squeezed the back of his hand, his eyes misting over.
“Shit, I don’t know what to say.” Troy ran his finger over the carving.
“Be careful.” Wes took it back. With a flick of his fingers, he revealed a long sword hidden within the cane. “Make sure you fly our jets.” The corner of his lips turned up.
Troy laughed. “Holy shit.”
“It has a flexible rubber tip for secure footing. I’ll see you downstairs.” Wes’s small smile turned into a cocky grin.
Copyright © R.L. Dunn